By Duncan Mackay

altSeptember 9 - ESPN, the American cable television network owned by Disney, has revealed that winning the rights to screen the 2014 and 2016 Olympics is its top priority in a move that is set to help push up the price for the TV rights in the United States and could help Chicago's bid.

They are planning a joint bid with ABC when the negotiations begin seriously later this year after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has chosen which city will host the 2016 Olympics.

John Skipper, ESPN's executive vice-president of content, said: "We'll be there.

"We're having discussions with them [the IOC]."

ESPN is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary and earlier this year signed a £90 million deal to broadcast 46 matches in the English Premiership, the most watched professional league in the world.

It has now targetted the Olympics to help continue its expansion.

Skipper said: "There's no question the Olympics would continue the process of establishing ESPN as the home of championship sports and great sports."

ESPN, which is also to broadcast the 2010 World Cup in South Africa next year, will face stiff competition to land the rights for the Olympics as the current broadcaster NBC are expected to mount a strong challenge and Fox, the company owned by Rupert Murdoch, and CBS are also set to bid.

The potential bidding war could help make Chicago more attractive as the choice of the 2016 Olympics to the IOC when they vote on the next host city at its Session in Copenhagen on October 2.

Chicago is already one of the favourites, along with Rio de Janeiro, in a bidding race that also involves Madrid and Tokyo. 

Dan Bell, a spokesman for Fox, said: "The Olympics are one of the premier sporting events in the world and we will absolutely be a part of the bidding process when the time comes."

NBC, who have broadcast the Olympics in the US since Sydney in 2000, paid $2.2 billion (£1.4 billion) to broadcast the 2010 Vancouver and 2012 London Games.

In 1995, they had obtained the rights to five Olympics from 2000 to 2008 in a pair of deals worth a total of $3.5 billion (£2.3 billion).

NBC, majority owned by the Olympic TOP sponsor General Electric sold more than $1 billion (£540 million) in commercial time during the Olympics, and notched record viewership, largely thanks to swimmer Michael Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals.

Skipper said: "NBC did a spectacular job [in Beijing].

"You've got to give them credit for getting swimming at night.

"And you have to give it to them for orchestrating it so that Michael Phelps was a big story.

"Like all of us, they had the good fortune to be there when an unbelievable story unfolded, right?

"Michael Phelps every night.

"So they had a good run."

Related stories
July 2009: NBC still planning to bid for 2014 and 2016 Olympic rights
March 2009: NBC claims that IOC have delayed bidding for US TV rights
December 2008: US TV companies discuss joining forces for Olympics
December 2008: IOC ready to wait until after 2016 decision before opening TV talks
August 2008: NBC enjoying Phelps dividend as he powers to another record